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BACKGROUND: Major depression is a common and disabling condition. However, for many reasons, the condition is not recognized in about half of the patients with major depression. AIM: The aim of the study was to establish whether the content of general practice consultations affected general practitioners' recognition of major depressive illness in women patients. METHOD: The 30-item general health questionnaire was used as a first stage screening instrument for psychiatric morbidity. Patients newly recognized as depressed by their general practitioner and those not recognized as depressed who scored 11 or more on the questionnaire were interviewed, usually within three days of consulting their general practitioner, using the combined psychiatric interview. Videorecordings of the consultations for these two groups of women were analysed; analyses were based on mentions of physical, psychiatric and social symptoms and on whether the first mention of a psychiatric symptom was within the first four mentions of any symptoms (early in the consultation) or after four mentions of any symptoms (late) or if psychiatric symptoms were not mentioned. RESULTS: A paired sample of 72 women with major depression was obtained from patients consulting 36 general practitioners, each general practitioner providing one patient whom he or she had correctly recognized as being depressed and one patient whose depression had not been recognized. Women with major depression were about five times more likely to have their depression recognized if they mentioned their psychiatric symptoms early in the consultation compared with those who either left it later to mention such symptoms or never mentioned them. Major depression was more likely to be recognized if no physical illness was present. After adjusting for physical illness, depression was 10 times less likely to be recognized if the first psychiatric symptom was mentioned late in the consultation, or not mentioned at all, than if it was mentioned early in the consultation. CONCLUSION: General practitioners need to remember that patients who present with symptoms of physical illness may also have depression. They also need to remember to give equal importance diagnostically to mentions of symptoms at whatever point they occur in the consultation, regardless of the presence or absence of physical illness.


Journal article


Br J Gen Pract

Publication Date





575 - 578


Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Depressive Disorder, Family Practice, Female, Humans, Middle Aged, Physician-Patient Relations, Referral and Consultation